Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 3/2/13

20130302-122214.jpgSetting the stage:

The million dollar question at this point is “who is in and who is out?” The Timberwolves conclude their western journeySaturday night in Portland and at the time of writing, we don’t know who will be available for the team. Beyond the “normal” group of players that remain out, will Andrei Kirilenko or Nikola Pekovic be ready for Saturday’s game? As soon as we know more, we’ll drop it into the comments section below.

Our Pups come off a loss on Thursday night to the Lakers, which was the team’s fourth loss in a row, and 20th out of their last 24 games. You don’t need a calculator to know that this isn’t very good. The latest losing streak has dropped the team’s record to 20-35. While still in the hunt for the playoffs, the Blazers have also been in a mini free-fall over the past few weeks and are on a 1-8 slide to close out February. Portland is currently 26-31 on the season and four games behind the Rockets for the 8th seed in the conference, with the Lakers also two games ahead of them for that final seed/spot in the playoffs.

Portland has taken care of the Wolves in each of their three prior meetings this season. While the games have been close and enjoyable to watch, the Wolves have found ways to lose. This includes letting Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews do whatever they want from the Blazers backcourt positions.

Player to watch:

Nicolas Batum – Given Stephen Curry’s 54 point explosion at MSG this week, why wouldn’t there be salt in the wound for Pups fans on Saturday night? Kirilenko has been great, probably the team MVP, but he isn’t going to be around in a few years whereas Batum looks like he is really coming into his own this season. I just expect to see a lot of “what could have been” and “imagine if he was with the Wolves” comments and tweets. While putting up strong performances in the first two meetings between the two teams, Batum really struggled in his last meeting with the Wolves, as AK47 was able to shut him down. Batum finished that game with more turnovers (7) than points (4). I expect to see some type of revenge on Saturday night.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Damian Lillard. Rubio just missed a triple double on Thursday night against the Lakers and it seems like he has been flirting with one quite a bit lately. The NBA can hand Damian Lillard the Rookie of the Year trophy right now if they really wanted to. He has been phenomenal for the Blazers this season and has not hit the rookie wall at all. There have only been four games to this point in the season in which Lillard has not reached double digits in scoring.

Given that Rubio now seems to be truly healthy, this match-up should be a lot of fun to watch/monitor and should pack the highlight reel.

Predictions:

I don’t see the Wolves pulling this one off, particularly if AK47 and/or Pekovic are out or severely hampered with their nagging injuries.

Final score prediction: Twolves 86, Blazers 101

Three stars of the game predictions:

1. Nicolas Batum
2. Wesley Matthews
3. Ricky Rubio

Let’s go Wolves!

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